Bypolls set the stage for 3 state assembly elections | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Bypolls set the stage for 3 state assembly elections

Jul 10, 2024 12:22 PM IST

Political alliances are taking shape in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand for the big battle ahead in October as allies take guard.

Conventional political wisdom dictates that the third term Modi government is likely to reveal its true intentions and its course of action, only after the results of the three crucial assembly elections are known later this year, most likely by October.

Polling officials collect EVM and other election materials at a distribution centre for the Maniktala assembly bypoll, in Kolkata, Tuesday. (PTI)
Polling officials collect EVM and other election materials at a distribution centre for the Maniktala assembly bypoll, in Kolkata, Tuesday. (PTI)

Then, depending upon the outcome of the polls in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand – with the remote possibility of Jammu and Kashmir thrown in – will the Modi government reveal its hand. Since the reverses in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections, the BJP government is in a `wait and watch’ mode, with the loss of 60-plus Lok Sabha seats placing an onerous burden on the ruling party.

Also Read | Round 2 of NDA vs INDIA as 13 assembly seats in 7 states go to bypolls today; Bengal on focus | 10 points

The first curtain in this never-ending drama will go up on July 10 when by-elections will be held to 13 assembly seats across seven states. One constituency each in Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh, four constituencies in West Bengal and two seats each in Uttarakhand, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh will face by polls to be held against vacancies created either due to deaths or resignation of incumbent members. Follow Live Updates on bypolls

Depending on the outcome, it could lead to fresh realignments and determine the course of the politics and policies in the months and years ahead.

Under the circumstances, hard-nosed political alliances are being firmed up for the October spectacle. Of the three, Maharashtra with its 288 assembly seats, remains the most vital. The Maha Vikas Aghadi or the MVA, including the Congress, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) headed by veteran Sharad Pawar, will jointly contest the polls.

Last Sunday in Pune, Pawar stressed that the Opposition coalition must present a united front to bring about political change and that talks on seat sharing will begin soon. The MVA bagged 30 out of 48 Lok Sabha seats.

That the NCP boss is seeking to cobble together the broadest possible rainbow coalition, buoyed no doubt by the Lok Sabha results, was clear when he emphasised the `moral obligation’ of the major MVA parties to safeguard the interests of their smaller allies who had been part of the victorious opposition coalition in the Lok Sabha. Pawar, 83, was alluding to the Left parties and the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), who could not be accommodated in the seat-sharing process at the time of the general election.

For the BJP, the big test will be its alliance with regional parties, Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde group) and Ajit Pawar’s NCP faction. During a May rally in Nandurbar campaigning for the Lok Sabha, PM Narendra Modi had `advised’ both Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray to join hands with NDA. "Instead of merging with Congress and dying, this fake NCP and Shiv Sena should come with Ajit Pawar and CM Shinde," he had said.

Last week, the Uddhav Thackeray faction of the Sena asserted that it is going to remain with the INDIA alliance and will not switch back to the NDA. Having won nine Lok Sabha seats, it has emerged as the second-largest party in Maharashtra - tied with the BJP – with the additional satisfaction of having edged out the archrival Shinde faction, which managed to win only seven.

The BJP and undivided Shiv Sena have been old allies. During the 2019 general elections, they contested together and won 41 Lok Sabha seats between them, with the BJP getting 23 and Uddhav Thackeray's party 18. The two later fell out over disagreements regarding the chief minister's post.

The importance of Haryana, where the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) has tied up with its former ally Bahujan Samaj Party, can scarcely be underrated. Its state unit chief Rampal Majra told PTI this week that "the two parties have in principle agreed to enter into an alliance for the upcoming Haryana assembly.”

In Haryana, the BJP's vote share dropped from 58.2 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to 46.11 per cent in 2024. The INDIA bloc's vote share was better; together, they secured 47.61 per cent, with the Congress, which contested nine seats, getting 43.67 per cent, and the Aam Aadmi Party, which contested one seat (Kurukshetra), picking up a measly 3.94 per cent.

Pramod Kumar, chairperson of the Institute for Development and Communication, a Chandigarh-based think-tank, was quoted as saying that despite the much-improved Congress performance in the state, it would be premature to conclude that a win for them is on the cards.

However, the BJP too is not well placed in Haryana, which it has ruled for a decade. ``Indeed, the situation is unfavourable for the BJP. It faces a 10-year anti-incumbency. At least for now, it lacks a competing narrative against the Opposition's focus on livelihood and farming issues. There is also the farmers' movement, which is unabated, and it remains to be seen how the government addresses it," he said.

Farmers' organisations – in India’s food bowl of Punjab-Haryana – have seriously hampered BJP 's prospects. The farmers’ front, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, relaunched their agitation in February 2024, demanding a legal guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP), which continues.

Not that the BJP had any illusions about facing anti-incumbency in Haryana. Earlier, this March, it replaced Manohar Lal Khattar, a Punjabi, with Nayab Singh Saini, an OBC, as chief minister. Saini has announced welfare schemes in recent weeks and promised to fill all vacancies in state government jobs soon. The point is with the assembly elections, so close, how much can he achieve?

A Post by Sanjay Kumar, co-director of Lokniti CSDS, on X said that their post-poll Lok Sabha survey in Haryana found that 61 per cent of the state's farmers voted for the INDIA bloc, while only 35 per cent pitched for the BJP. Among non-farmers, 44 per cent voted for the INDIA bloc and 49 per cent for the BJP.

While the farmers’ agitation may be out of the news, its intensity in Haryana has in no way lessened and it looks a tad difficult for this trend to be reversed.

In Jharkhand, the BJP and its old ally, the All Jharkhand Students Union (AJSU), are faced off against the INDIA bloc with Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), RJD and the Communist Party of India (ML) Liberation as its principal constituents. The CPI (ML) Liberation won two Lok Sabha seats in adjacent Bihar.

The ruling combination got a shot in the arm when recently released Jharkhand chief minister, Hemant Soren, secured a decisive victory in the state assembly’s trust vote on July 8, with 45 MLAs backing him, making cabinet expansion an imminent possibility.

The JMM alliance boasts 45 MLAs: 27 from JMM, 17 Congress, and one from Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), in the 81-member state assembly. The BJP trails with 24 MLAs.

For the Jharkhand assembly elections, there is another element to be reckoned with now: a new political outfit’s performance just went beyond expectations in the Lok Sabha elections. The Jharkhandi Bhasha Khatiyan Sangharsh Samiti (JBKSS), led by 29-year-old Jairam Kumar Mahato, contested as independents on eight seats in Jharkhand, coming third on six Lok Sabha seats. Both the JMM-led block and the BJP are trying to rope in the newbie in their scheme of things. Clearly, as elections draw nearer, expect more alliances to be firmed up.

 

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